November 2, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Respect for all life is countercultural and unpopular in secular culture

One has to be careful in receiving information from media sources without critical evaluation. What we hear, see and read may not be the whole story. I am thinking of a case in point.

I was surprised when I first heard that President George W. Bush would veto the renewal of the recent State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). I couldn’t imagine why a president would be opposed to health care for children, especially poor children.

He did, in fact, veto the revised program. The storyline I read and the sound bites I heard reported that the reason for the president’s action was the excessive cost of the program. That is pretty different from what I found to be the case in the reports by the Catholic media.

I learned that, as a matter of fact, President Bush and the U.S. bishops once supported SCHIP, but we now have grave concerns about it. As one national Catholic editorial put it, “That’s because a new Congress has transformed this welfare reform into a Trojan horse.”

In effect, Congress tried to redirect SCHIP. As an editorial in the National Catholic Register put it, “They decided a children’s health bill would be the best place to set a dangerous precedent by taking dollars from U.S. taxpayers’ paychecks and using them to pay for abortions.”

The health care program for children (SCHIP) was created in 1997. It was considered a step in welfare reform because there was the provision that federal money was to be distributed by the states, “closer to home” if you will. SCHIP money was to be spent to provide health care to children whose parents were above the poverty level and didn’t qualify for Medicaid, yet couldn’t afford health care.

When Congress changed hands in 2005, new legislators decided to make two impor­tant changes in the SCHIP program.

First, they changed the definition of children. The previous definition of children had been anyone “from conception to age 19.” In other words, prenatal care was available for the sake of the children. That definition was removed.

Secondly, “pregnancy services” were added to the new bill. Under this rubric, money withheld from taxes could pay for abortions in 17 states. The previous version of SCHIP used language that provided for the rights of unborn children, too. The new version reverses that notion. The new version of the health care for children program circumvents longstanding federal policies against taxpayer-funded abortions.

What was originally intended to serve poor children is now available to fund abortions. It is, then, no surprise that the new version of the program has the support of Planned Parenthood.

Needless to say, the U.S. bishops can no longer support the revised version of SCHIP. While the old version was a good thing, the new one is not. The president’s veto was about more than increased costs.

There is constant pressure to assert the right to have abortion as an acceptable and available medical practice, even to the point of mandating taxpayer support. The same is true for legal support of embryonic stem-cell research practices that require the termination of human life in the process.

To say the least, our profound belief that human life is sacred from conception to natural death is increasingly more countercultural and unpopular in the secular culture. The disdain is palatable.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s shrewd remark comes to mind: “It is indeed a great poverty to kill innocent life for the sake of greater comfort and convenience.” Comfort and convenience are values that seem to have become supreme in the culture of contemporary society. I think those of us who are the older generation shake our heads in disbelief. We remember a different day.

One needs to ask the question: How does God fit in a secular culture? In effect, God doesn’t fit. The Creator of life is sidelined for all practical purposes. Is this intentional? Probably so, in some cases. But I think, for the most part, secularity has become so dominant that little thought is given to what it means to believe in God and the consequences of that belief.

The issue is further complicated in a society that rightly places a high value on democracy. The problem is that equality of rights is interpreted as rights at any cost, including the denial of the right to life of the unborn and the most vulnerable in our society.

I return to my concern about how we receive information in our post-Christian world. We do ourselves and our culture a disservice if we accept what we see, hear and read at face value. Our children and young adults need help in learning to think critically and in accord with our moral values and the Creed we profess. †

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